Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Bernardo Atxaga - Death and the Zebras

We were 157 zebras
galloping down the parched plain,
I ran behind zebra 24,
25, and 26,
ahead of 61 and 62
and suddenly we were overtaken with a jump
by 118 and 119,
both of them shouting river, river,
and 25, very happy, repeated river, river,
and suddenly 130 reached us
running, shouting, very happy, river, river,
and 25 took a left turn
ahead of 24 and 26
and suddenly I saw the sun on the river
sparkling full of sparkly splashes
and 8 and 9 passed me
running in the opposite direction
with their mouths full of water
and wet legs and white chests
very happy, shouting go,go,go
and I stumbled suddenly with 5 and 7
who were also running in the opposite directions
but shouting crocodiles, crocodiles,
and then 6 and 30 and 14 ran past us
very frightened, shouting crocodiles, crocodiles, go, go, go
and I drank water, I drank sparkling water
full of sparky splashes and sun;
crocodile, crocodile, shouted 25, very frightened,
crocodile, I repeated, rearing back
and running very frightened in the opposite direction
I suddenly collided with 149
and 150 and 151,
running, shouting very happy river,river,
crocodiles, crocodiles,
I shouted back, very frightened
with my mouth full of water
and wet legs and wet chest
I kept galloping down the parched plain
behind 24 and 26
ahead of 61 and 62 and 63
and suddenly I saw, I saw a gap
between 24 and 26, a gap
and I kept galloping down the parched plain
and I saw the gap again, the gap again,
between 24 and 26
and I jumped and filled the gap.

We were 149 zebras
galloping down the parched plain,
and head of me were 12, 13
and 14, and behind me
43 and 44.



Friday, May 14, 2010

Arthur Rimbaud - Delirum II

Alchemy of the Word


My turn now. The story of one of my insanities.

For a long time I boasted that I was master of all possible landscapes and I thought the great figures of modern painting and poetry were laughable.

What I liked were: absurd paintings, pictures over doorways, stage sets, carnival backdrops, billboards, bright-colored prints; old-fashioned literature, church Latin, erotic books full of misspellings, the kind of novels our grandmothers read, fairy tales, little children's books, old operas, silly old songs, the nave rhythms of country rimes.

I dreamed of Crusades, voyages of discovery that nobody had heard of, republics without histories, religious wars stamped out, revolutions in morals, movements of races and continents: I used to believe in every kind of magic.

I invented colors for the vowels! - A black, E white, I red, O blue, U green. - I made rules for the form and movement of every consonant, and I boasted of inventing, with rhythms from within me, a kind of poetry that all the senses, sooner or later, would recognize. And I alone would be its translator.

I began it as an investigation. I turned silences and nights into words. What was unutterable, I wrote down. I made the whirling world stand still.


Far from flocks, from birds and country girls,
What did I drink within that leafy screen
Surrounded by tender hazlenut trees
In the warm green mist of afternoon?

What could I drink from this young Oise
- Toungeless trees, flowerless grass, dark skies! -
Drink from these yellow gourds, far from the hut
I loved? Some golden draught that made me sweat.

I would have made a doubtful sign for an inn.
- Later, toward evening, the sky filled with clouds...
Water from the woods runs out on virgin sands,
And heavenly winds cast ice thick on the ponds;

Then I saw gold, and wept, but could not drink.


At four in the morning, in summertime,
Love's drowsiness still lasts...
The bushes blow away the odor
Of the night's feast.

Beyond the bright Hesperides,
Within the western workshop of the Sun,
Carpenters scramble - in shirtsleeves -
Work is begun.

And in desolate, moss-grown isles
They raise their precious panels
Where the city
Will paint a hollow sky

For these charming dabblers in the arts
Who labor for a King in Babylon,
Venus! Leave for a moment
Lovers' haloed hearts.

O Queen of Shepherds!
Carry the purest eau-de-vie
To these workmen while they rest
And take their bath at noonday, in the sea


The worn-out ideas of old-fashioned poetry played an important part in my alchemy of the word.

I got used to elementary hallucination: I could very precisely see a mosque instead of a factory, a drum corps of angels, horse carts on the highways of the sky, a drawing room at the bottom of a lake; monsters and mysteries; a vaudeville's title filled me with awe.

And so I explained my magical sophistries by turning words into visions!

At last, I began to consider my mind's disorder a sacred thing. I lay about idle, consumed by an oppressive fever: I envied the bliss of animals - caterpillars, who portray the innocence of a second childhood, moles, the slumber of virginity!

My mind turned sour. I said farewell to the world in poems something like ballads:

A Song from the highest Tower

Let it come, let it come,
The season we can love

I have waited so long
That at length I forget;
And leave unto heaven
My fear and regret.
A sick thirst
Darkens my veins.

Let it come, let it come,
The season we can love

So the green field
To oblivion falls,
Overgrown, flowering,
With incense and weeds
And the cruel noise
Of dirty flies.

Let it come, let it come,
The season we can love

I loved the desert, burnt orchards, tired old shops, warm drinks. I dragged myself through stinking alleys, and with my eyes closed I offered myself to the sun, the god of fire.

"General, if on your ruined ramparts one cannon still remains, shell us with clods of dried-up earth. Shatter the mirrors of expensive shops! And the drawing rooms! Make the city swallow its dust. Turn gargoyles to rust. Stuff boudoirs with rubies' fiery powder..."

Oh! the little fly drunk at the urinal of a country inn, in love with rotting weeds, a ray of light dissolves him!


I only find within my bones
A taste for eating earth and stones.
When I feed, I feed on air,
Rocks and coals and iron ore.

My hunger, turn. Hunger, feed,
A field of bran.
Gather as you can the bright
Poison weed.

Eat the rocks a beggar breaks,
The stones of ancient churches' walls;
Pebbles, children of the flood,
Loaves left lying in the mud.


Beneath the bush a wolf will howl
Spitting bright feathers
From his feast of fowl:
Like him, I devour myself.

Waiting to be gathered
Fruits and grasses spend their hours;
The spider spinning in the hedge
Eats only flowers.

Let me sleep! Let me boil
On the altars of Solomon;
Let me soak the rusty soil,
And flow into Kendron.

Finally, O reason, O happiness, I cleared from the sky the blue which is darkness, and I lived as a golden spark of this light Nature. In my delight, I made my face look as comic and as wild as I could:

It is recovered.
What? - Eternity.
In the whirling light
Of the sun in the sea.

O my eternal soul,
Hold fast to desire
In spite of the night
And the day on fire.

You must set yourself free
From the striving of Man
And the applause of the World
You must fly as you can...

- No hope forever
No orietur.
Science and patience,
The torment is sure.

The fire within you,
Soft silken embers,
Is our whole duty
But no one remembers.

It is recovered.
What? Eternity.
In the whirling light
Of the sun in the sea.


I became a fabulous opera: I saw that everyone in the world was doomed to happiness. Action isn't life: it's merely a way of ruining a kind of strength, a means of destroying nerves. Morality is water on the brain.

It seemed to me that everyone should have had several other lives as well. This gentleman doesn't know what he's doing: he's an angel. That family is a litter of puppy dogs. With some men, I often talked out loud with a moment from one of their other lives. - That's how I happened to love a pig.

Not a single one of the brilliant arguments of madness, - the madness that gets locked up, - did I forget: I could go through them all again, I've got the system down by heart.

It affected my health. Terror loomed ahead. I would fall again and again into a heavy sleep, which lasted several days at a time, and when I woke up, my sorrowful dreams continued. I was ripe for fatal harvest, and my weakness led me down dangerous roads to the edge of the world, to the Cimmerian shore, the haven of whirlwinds and darkness.

I had to travel, to dissipate the enchantments that crowded my brain. On the sea, which I loved as if it were to wash away my impurity, I watched the compassionate cross arise. I had been damned by the rainbow. Felicity was my doom, my gnawing remorse, my worm: my life would forever be too large to devote to strength and to beauty.

Felicity! The deadly sweetness of its sting would wake me at cockcrow, - ad matutinum, at the Christus venit, - in the somberest of cities:

O seasons, O chateaus!
Where is the flawless soul?

I learned the magic of
Felicity, it enchants us all.

To Felicity, sing life and praise
Whenever Gaul's cock crows.

Now all desire has gone:
It has made my life its own.

That spell has caught heart and soul
And scattered every trial.

O seasons, O chateaus!

And, oh! the day it disappears
Will be the day I die.

O seasons, O chateaus!


All that is over. Today, I know how to celebrate beauty.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Friedrich Holderlin - Bread and Wine

Bread and Wine

to Heinze


Round about the city rests. The illuminated streets grow
Quiet, and coaches rush along, adorned with torches.
Men go home to rest, filled with the day's pleasures;
Busy minds weigh up profit and loss contentedly
At home. The busy marketplace comes to rest,
Vacant now of flowers and grapes and crafts.
But the music of strings sounds in distant gardens:
Perhaps lovers play there, or a lonely man thinks
About distant friends, and about his own youth.
Rushing fountains flow by fragrant flower beds,
Bells ring softly in the twilight air, and a watchman
Calls out the hour, mindful of the time.
Now a breeze rises and touches the crest of the grove —
Look how the moon, like the shadow of our earth,
Also rises stealthily! Phantastical night comes,
Full of stars, unconcerned probably about us —
Astonishing night shines, a stranger among humans,
Sadly over the mountain tops, in splendor.


The kindness of exalted Night is wonderful, and no one
Knows where she comes from, or what will emerge from her.
Thus she moves the world, and the hopeful minds of humans:
Not even a sage knows what she's up to.
The highest god, who loves you very much, wants it so;
Therefore you prefer reasonable day to the night.
But occasionally a clear eye loves the shadows as well,
And tries to sleep just for pleasure, before it's necessary,
Or a brave person likes to gaze directly into the Night:
Surely it's right to dedicate wreaths and songs to her,
Since she is holy to those who are lost or dead, although
She herself exists totally free in spirit, forever.
But she must grant us oblivion and holy drunkenness,
That in the hesitating interval, in the darkness,
There'll be something for us to hold on to.
She must grant us flowing words, sleepless
As lovers are, and a fuller cup, and bolder life, and
Holy remembrance as well, to stay wakeful at night.


We, masters and apprentices both, hide our hearts
In vain, and repress our enthusiasm for no reason.
For who could stop it, or forbid us our pleasure?
The fire of the gods drives us to set forth by day
And by night. So come, let us look at what is apparent,
And seek what is ours, as distant as it may be!
One thing is certain: a standard always exists, at noon
Or at midnight, common to all of us. But also
To each of us something personal is granted;
Everyone goes and comes where he can.
Thus playful madness may mock mockery itself,
Seizing singers suddenly in the holy night.
Then let's be off to the Isthmus! There, where
The open sea roars at Parnassus, and the snow
Shines around the Delphian cliffs,
There in the land of Olympus, on Cithaeron's peak,
Under the pines, amid vineyards, from which
Thebes and Ismenos roar in the land of Cadmus.
The approaching god comes from there, and points back.


Holy Greece! Home of all the gods — so it's true,
What once we heard when we were young?
A festival hall, whose floor is the ocean, whose tables
Are the mountains — anciently built for a single purpose.
But where are the thrones? Where the temples, the songs,
The vases full of nectar for the pleasure of the gods?
Where are the oracles that shine for miles and miles?
Delphi sleeps, and where does great Fate resound?
Where does Fate suddenly break forth, full of omnipresent
Joy, thundering out of clear air over our eyes?
Father Aether! It called and flew from tongue to tongue
A thousand times, and nobody had to endure life alone.
Shared, such fortune is a joy; exchanged with strangers,
It becomes jubilant. Sleeping, the power of the word grows:
Father! Joyful! The ancient sign resounds, as far it reaches,
Inherited from the elders, striking, creating.
Thus the gods enter; thus the season of the gods falls
From the shadows down to men, shaking the depths.


At first the gods come unperceived. Children try to get
Near them. But their glory dazzles and blinds and
Awakens fear. A demi-god scarcely knows the people
By name, who now approach him with gifts. But their
Courage is great. Their joy fills his heart, and he hardly
Knows what to do with the offerings. He busies himself
And becomes wasteful, and unholy things almost become holy,
Which he touches with a blessing hand, foolishly and kindly.
The gods tolerate it as long as they can, and then in truth
They appear themselves. And people become accustomed
To this fortune, to the daytime, and to the sight of the manifest
Ones, the faces of those formerly called the "One and All,"
Deeply making every silent breast content, and first and alone
Filling every desire. It's the way people are. When something
Good appears, and even when it's a god that provides them
With gifts, they don't see or recognize it. First they have
To get used to it; then they call it their closest possession.
And only then will words of praise arise, like flowers.


And now they prepare in earnest to honor the holy gods.
Everything must really and truly proclaim their praise.
Nothing displeasing to the high ones may come to light.
Idle endeavors aren't proper for the Aether.
Therefore, to stand worthily in the presence of the gods,
Nations rise in splendid order and beautiful
Temples and cities are built, strong and noble, which rise
Above the banks of the waters —but where are they?
Where are the famous, flourishing cities, crowning the festival?
Thebes and Athens are fading. Don't the weapons clash
At Olympus, or golden chariots at the games? Are there
No longer wreaths to decorate the ships of Corinth?
Why are the ancient holy theaters silent?
What happened to the joyful ceremonial dancing?
Why doesn't a god place his sign on a human forehead,
Leaving his mark on the person he has struck?
Or, as gods used to, come comfortingly, and assume human
Shape, then complete and close the festival of the gods?


But friend, we come too late. It's true that the gods live,
But up over our heads, up in a different world.
They function endlessly up there, and seem to care little
If we live or die, so much do they avoid us.
A weak vessel cannot hold them forever; humans can
Endure the fullness of the gods only at times. Therefore
Life itself becomes a dream about them. But perplexity
And sleep assist us: distress and night-time strengthen,
Until enough heroes have grown in the bronze cradle,
With hearts as strong as the gods', as it used to be.
Thundering they arise. Meanwhile I often think it is
Better to stay asleep, than to exist without companions,
Just waiting it out, not knowing what to do or say
In the meantime. What use are poets in times of need?
But you'll say they're like holy priests of the wine god,
Moving from land to land in the holy night.


Some time ago — to us it seems like a long time —
All those who made our lives happy climbed upwards.
The Father turned his face away from people,
And sorrow came rightly upon the earth.
Finally a quiet genius appeared, comforting in a god-like
Way, who announced the end of the day, and disappeared.
The choir of gods left some gifts behind, as a sign
Of their presence and eventual return, which we
May appreciate in our human fashion, as we used to.
That which is superior had grown too great for pleasure
With spirit among men. And to this day no one's strong enough
For the highest joys, although some gratitude survives quietly.
Bread is the fruit of the earth, yet it's blessed also by light.
The pleasure of wine comes from the thundering god.
We remember the gods thereby, those who were once
With us, and who'll return when the time is right.
Thus poets sing of the wine god in earnest, and their
Ringing praises of the old one aren't devised in vain.


Yes, they say rightly that he reconciles day with night,
And leads the stars of heaven up and down forever —
Joyful always, like the boughs of evergreen pine
That he loves, and the wreath he chose of ivy,
Since it endures, and brings a trace of the fugitive gods
Down to the darkness of those who must live in their absence.
What the sons of the ancients foretold of God's children:
Look, it's us, the fruit of Hesperia!
Through humans it is wonderfully and exactly fulfilled;
Let those believe who've examined the matter. But so much
Goes on, yet nothing succeeds: we are like heartless shadows
Until our Father Aether recognizes us and belongs to us all.
Meanwhile the Son, the Syrian, comes down among
The shadows, as torchbearer of the Highest.
Holy sages observe it; a smile shines out from
The imprisoned soul; their eyes thaw in the light.
Titans dream more softly, asleep in the arms of the earth—
Even jealous Cerberus drinks and falls asleep.